If you have been following us for any length of time, you have likely caught on that we here at Heavy Blog are an opinionated bunch. Yes, we obviously have many many feelings when it comes to all sorts of music-related topics, but unsurprisingly this also carries itself well over into the realms of other forms of art, media, culture, sports, and, yes, politics. Hence how we have wound up with this, The Void Screameth, where on the internet, nobody can hear you scream, but we can at least pound the keyboard until something legible comes out and hope that one or two other people read it!
The music industry needs to stop announcing tours for 2021
A few weeks ago I posted a thread to Twitter that at the time I thought might be a bit controversial but turned out to be welcome.
The conventional wisdom coming into January 2021 across most of the music world on both the industry and fan side was that with the arrival of multiple Covid-19 vaccines and a new US presidential administration that struck a much more serious tone on the virus and its mitigation that there was strong reason to believe that live music could realistically be a thing again in the second half of the year. Indeed, even the revered Dr. Fauci was going out there making bold claims about live music being safe to attend again by the fall.
Since then, bands have followed suit with an overwhelming number of tours in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Of course, many are rescheduled versions of tours originally announced and canceled in 2020, but the incredible backlog that has been piling up for a year now only means that the pressure to get out there and start playing (and making money) again is immense. As I wrote in our 2020 issue, eliminating live music as a revenue stream was cutting off the final leg of an already broken stool that is the modern music industry. It’s hard to begrudge anyone for wanting to return to that and hope for the best.
The problem is that even in the month or so since Fauci first made those bullish claims, vaccine distribution worldwide clearly has not been at its best. At the time I’m writing this (Feb 21), worldwide we have distributed a rather paltry 205 million vaccines, or 2.63 per 100 people. More discouragingly, for all of the issues that the US has had in distributing the vaccine efficiently and actually getting shots into arms (of which there are so many), it’s still been a world leader. Its 61.3M vaccines distributed is well above any other nation, and its rate of 18.67% is only below Israel, the UAE, and the UK for nations with large populations. For the US, we have benefited largely from a glut of supply by virtue of two of the vaccines being developed at least in part in the US and having the purchasing power to buy up a ton of it. The remainder of Europe currently finds itself mired in mid-single digits, and Canada (3.73%) and Mexico (1.3%) are in even more dire situations.
Using the US as a baseline though, the problems with planning for live music, especially in the form of widespread tours, by fall 2021 are myriad. For one thing, vaccine distribution has been anything but equitable across the country. While some smaller states have ironically found more success in being resourceful and working with more local and rural pharmacies to go where the people are, larger states like California, New York, and Texas have struggled. So while some parts of the US might actually achieve near herd immunity by fall, many more places will not. The other huge problem is that the primary age demographics for live concert attendance – adults in their 20s and 30s – are (rightly) among the last to be prioritized and receive the vaccine. So while in all likelihood vaccines will be available to all people by early/mid-summer, it will take many more months for people outside of those priority groups to actually receive both doses.
I don’t believe we need to be completely doom and gloom about the state of the virus and vaccines, and there are positive signs that rates of vaccination are picking up concurrently with infection, hospitalization, and death rates falling as we get further away from the peak of the holiday season and the weeks following. Nor do I believe that no live music is possible to accomplish safely this year. Particularly as weather warms up and we hit the summer into fall I think open-air/outdoor live music that follows social distancing guidelines will be very possible and safe. The image of seeing hundreds of sweaty concertgoers packed into indoor spaces, oftentimes with rather dodgy ventilation to begin with, anytime this year though is still enough to drive me into a spike of anxiety. No amount of testing (rapid or otherwise) is enough to mitigate an outbreak in such situations, venues and the companies that own them seem unlikely to enforce any sort of proof of vaccine for admittance, and even more concerning, we still don’t know for sure how well these vaccines hold up against newer, more infectious strains.
As I wrote in the original tweet, “At worst [these tours are] hugely irresponsible and setting us up for future public health nightmares that only prolong the mess we’re in.” And that’s the real worry. Yes, having our hopes for a more normal 2021 will be a blow to our collective mental states, but much like with our decisions to prematurely open businesses, sports stadiums, gyms, bars, and schools, doing so with concerts will ultimately hurt everyone and make it more difficult to return to “normal” beyond 2021. This situation continues to suck and hurt millions of people financially. But if you truly think we’re going to be in a place to be “done” with all of this by September or October…well, I’ve got a cruise with your name on it.
We need to stop letting bigots claim they’re “conservative” because they’re not
With the news that Gina Carano has gotten canned from the Mandalorian, I think we need to have a larger discussion about what being conservative means. I was recently talking to a very good friend of mine about these kinds of news stories and how those supportive of President Obese Carrot have begun to characterize themselves as “conservative” and what a mockery that is. It all came to a head for me upon reading possibly the most disingenuous article I’ve ever seen attempt to equate recent pseudo-conservative thought with principled conservatism a la William F. Buckley, Jr.
Before I go any further, I want to explain something about my own beliefs. I’ve always been a person who leans a little left of center, even before I began voraciously devouring political news and ideas. Lately I’ve found myself getting closer and closer to the very left end of the American political spectrum, truly believing that average people need to be more and more empowered in society so that we make it work for everybody. That being said, I believe every society and political system needs voices of honest dissent. I think society needs its own checks and balances to make sure nobody goes too crazy. After all, where would my writing be without the input of good editors to say, “Pete, delete that paragraph. I know you love your words, but it’s not helping here. Go focus on that idea instead.” I think the same thing applies to political systems at large.
To bring it back to the main point, the voice of dissent in a society needs to be based on the good-faith assessment that they actually want to make the world a better place. They have ideas about how to make some aspect of society better that might be informed by a political philosophy at large but maybe doesn’t make its way into the details all the time. Followers of the former Fascist In Chief are not good faith actors by any stretch of the imagination.
All you need to do is examine the ideas of those who follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump. Any cursory glance at any policy idea will show you that these people don’t believe in anything other than a demagogue. What was their idea for American healthcare reform? Repeal the laws that Obama put in place because they don’t like black people (there’s no argument about that point now). What was their idea instead? “We’ll figure it out later.” That’s not a plan. That’s just contradiction for the sake of it.
On that topic of race, we all know Trump was justifiably attacked innumerable times for the obviously racist ideals he holds. His argument against that was as empty and devoid of thought as you might think: “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met, and I’ll be great for black people.” Notice there are no specifics in that statement. Sure, you could accuse me of cherry-picking a quote, but I triple dare anybody to find any time he said something he would specifically do to combat the rising tide of white supremacy and give non-white people a fighting chance in America. There are no statements showing what he would do because he had no intention of actually doing anything. In fact, all reporting suggests that the Trump administration was actively trying to regress society to before non-whites had civil rights and encouraged states to do things like take away the right to vote. Again, there’s a complete lack of ideas here apart from the automatic nay-saying of whatever the other person just said to him.
Let’s now contrast that with the ideas of Mr. Buckley, a still oft quoted conservative thinker and writer. While there are a lot of statements and articles Buckley wrote against civil rights equality in the 1950s, he quickly changed his mind after his brother-in-law wrote a lengthy op-ed decrying Buckley’s magazine, The National Review, for espousing backwards thoughts and racist logic. Buckley examined his own thoughts and recognized his constitutional originalist ideas in the phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights[.]” It was then that Buckley grew very supportive of the civil rights movement. He applauded the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and harshly criticized southern politicians for racist thoughts and fear mongering, including the monument to segregation George Wallace himself. He grew to greatly admire and respect Martin Luther King, Jr., and even acknowledged that federal intervention was required in the south when politicians still refused to let black people vote. And all of these thoughts and ideas flowed from his acknowledgement of the US Constitution.
Now from the principled conservatism, we have to unfortunately return to Trump Fascism. What is the base for their political beliefs? Because I can confidently tell you it’s not any academic or scholarly work of political philosophy. It’s the worst motivator for any action a human might take: hate and fear. They hate people of color, immigrants, women, and anybody who doesn’t look and act like they do. They fear what might happen when those groups “take over” society. And the dangerous part is that that group of people grows over time. It’s never well-defined in the first place as the list of Bad People adds new targets whenever they need a new distraction or target. And eventually someone like you will be on the list, and who will speak for you when that time comes?
Let’s be clear: I don’t want anyone to be discriminated against for their political beliefs if they hold them in good faith. I’m not getting angry at my very good conservative buddy because he thinks we need less regulation in the seafood market or something like that. That’s an honest debate we can have where maybe we both learn something from each other that informs our opinions going forward. But that’s not what happened to Carano. According to reports, she had been asked many times to be more thoughtful with her words when she mocked people for naming their pronouns; questioned the severity of COVID-19; and also tried to legitimize the Big Lie about voter fraud in the 2020 election. So it didn’t come out of nowhere. But this leads to an even bigger point about the paradox of tolerance.
The paradox of tolerance is simply this: if a society obligates itself to be infinitely tolerant, it will eventually be taken down by intolerance. Look at the Weimar Republic. When the Nazis tried to take over the government in 1923 but were stopped, they weren’t really punished for what they did. Instead, judges let the insurrectionists off really easy. Hitler was originally given only a 5-year sentence that was eventually reduced to 8 months and a fine of 500 Reichsmarks. Other conspirators were let off equally easy. All this served to legitimize the Nazi platform, and we all know what happened next.
I’m not rushing to judgement and saying America is about to be overtaken by Nazis, but it’s not looking great. In order to maintain a tolerant society, we must be intolerant of intolerance. We cannot allow the Big Lie to dictate our discourse nor can we allow racists to be racist with impunity. If we don’t stamp these ideas out, we’re dooming ourselves to letting them take over. Don’t let these people legitimize themselves with the conservative label. They’re not conservative. They’re race-baiting fear mongers who want power because they don’t like you, and they’re more than happy to get in charge and target you. Don’t forget it.
The Curious Strategy Of Hating Your Own Audience: A Brief Look Into The Soul-Crushing Nihilism Of Rambo: Last Blood
Anyone who has talked movies extensively with me knows that I hold the Rambo reboot from 2008 in high regard. It’s one of two highly memorable major-studio trash pieces from that year which were basically gore flicks masquerading as action movies (the other, of course, is Punisher: War Zone). In my mind the 2008 Rambo is the best Stallone movie since Cobra, and again, if you’ve ever discussed film with me then you know that’s very high praise indeed.
Rambo: Last Blood is another story entirely. I came for the gore but didn’t anticipate the abject despair. Here are some scattered thoughts on the final film in this nearly 40-year old series:
Rambo: Last Blood is not a fun movie. Rather, a more accurate description would be that it is a bottomlessly grim and suffocatingly world-weary look into the black heart of sadness, hate, loss and fully realized hopelessness. Rambo: Last Blood wants to hurt you. But in a degrading way, like it not only wants to knock you down, but it wants you to know that it’s pointless to get back up.
I can confidently say that Rambo: Last Blood is, improbably, in ways a more despondent film than Schindler’s List, because at least Schindler’s List has a point. Schindler’s List at least presents a message about the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming sorrow. In forgetting to include things like plot, character development, well-placed conflict, a story arc, closure for seemingly important characters, or a sense of greater purpose, Rambo: Last Blood manages to become even more alarming and disconcerting just in the sheer pointlessness of its misanthropy.
Rambo: Last Blood is a film in which many lives are destroyed, but literally zero lives are saved. Bad men die, but nothing changes as a result. The world simply continues to burn out of control. Rambo: Last Blood is the least fun film I have seen in a very long time, making The Nightingale look like House Party 3.
Watching Rambo: Last Blood is like inviting the family of an overdose victim to watch you shoot a potentially lethal dose of heroin, for no reason other than to remind them that no one ever learns anything, mistakes are meant to be made again and again, and nothing matters.
At one point the leader of a sex trafficking ring describes to Rambo his relationship with the young girls he has forced into prostitution, saying “they aren’t people, they’re just things that I use until I can’t get any more out of them. They don’t mean anything to me.” I suspect that this line was actually lifted from a production meeting in which the director was describing how he felt about the audience, then everyone realized it would fit perfectly into the script, which, to be fair, it absolutely does. At another point, one of the protagonists says “I will be sad until the day I die.” That’s basically how I felt when I left the theater. By the way, that is the final line in the film for this character, a character that for all intents and purposes does not deserve to be sad until the day she dies. But this is just the way of life in the world of Last Blood. Don’t like it? “Go fuck yourself, we already have your money anyways” is what I imagine would be the definitive response from the producers.
To call back to the beginning of this piece for a moment, let me be clear: Rambo and Punisher: War Zone are pure trash. But there is an emphasis I’m putting on “pure” here. Both films know exactly what they are and they embrace it. Through cinema history there are genre films that never even attempt to be “good” because they are too busy being fucking awesome. I can pick out examples like the aforementioned Cobra, Pieces, Death Spa, Class of 1984, Raw Force, Road House, Deep Blue Sea, and, to hit the nail right on the head, Street Trash. There are so many others and I love them dearly. There’s a really refreshing, enjoyable absence of bullshit in their game. They know exactly who is in their audience, and they want nothing more than to put a smile on those people’s faces. This is what made the 2008 double-dip of Rambo and Punisher: War Zone so momentous. Here were two major-studio films with respectable budgets released months apart that made absolutely no excuses for what they were. They were fast-paced, gore-drenched, perfectly inane slices of modern grindhouse entertainment. What a treat, and one we aren’t awarded with nearly often enough.
Then we have First Blood, which is a legitimately good film that is sometimes overlooked because of how immediately ridiculous its sequels were. First Blood wanted to show how violence changes a person, how it paints their day-to-day life even as they try to avoid it, how people’s awareness of a violent past corrupts their interactions with a person, how even violence that seems justified doesn’t have the power to set you free or make things right again. First Blood has a complicated and nuanced relationship with violence.
Rambo: Last Blood places the experience of these complicated feelings directly on the viewers – punching you in the gut repeatedly, laughing in your face, then massacring all of its antagonists in a senseless, almost irrelevant fashion that rubs your face in the realization that none of the vengeance makes you feel even the least bit vindicated, and that in fact absolutely nothing matters and everyone is just meat for the grinder at the end of the day. David Morrell, the writer of the novel First Blood, had this to say about Rambo: Last Blood: “I felt I was less a human being for having seen it.” Not only do I agree with him 100% but I feel like that was in fact the intention of the filmmakers. Or it could just be that mixing terrible writing with oppressive bleakness is not a recipe for success.
So, either Rambo: Last Blood is a brilliantly effective exercise in experimental nihilism, or it’s just a really violent movie that played literally none of its cards right and ended up being exhaustingly downbeat. I’m leaning toward the latter.